World Cup 2010 (Day 17): Of Mice and Refs …

… You go into any high-level athletic event knowing that along the way, there are going to be things that officials miss. Soccer is no different. On occasion, a tug of the shirt, a kick to the shin, or a well-hidden elbow behind the play is going to occur in such a circumstance that neither the head referee nor his assistants are going to see it.

We know this to be true – we see it in nearly every match this is played. FIFA and the governing bodies of leagues around the world play along with this fact, because 99.9% of the time, these incidents don’t decide a game. And while we get pissed off when a super tight offside call costs our team a goal, or the lack of said call, or say, a uncalled handball near the goal line by someone in a yellow jersey playing in Ohio, allows one for the other team, most reasonable people eventually get over it and move on with their lives.

But when the missed calls become so blatantly obvious and potentially change the course of games, hiding under rock with your hands over your ears singing old Jerry Reed songs probably isn’t the wisest course of action.

At some point, there needs to be an admission that there’s a problem … and more importantly, there must be a path carved out toward finding a fair solution.

To be clear, I’m not sure today’s results were particularly fraudulent because of the Frank Lampard goal that wasn’t given for England in their 4-1 loss to Germany, or the Carlos Tevez goal that was given in Argentina’s 3-1 victory over Mexico. I thought Germany and Argentina were the better sides. I think if the games wer replayed, and all the calls were made correctly, we’d see the same winners.

Many saw today’s events and began rehashing the argument for replay – something I’m all for. It is neither difficult nor time consuming to have a fifth official at the game operations area in the press box who would watch the game, view replays, and when something so incredibly off as what we saw today occurs, contact the referee immediately and discuss the situation. The whole sequence could be done in no time flat – especially compared to all the time wasted in the “beautiful game,” by divers, cheats, and Ghana players who decide to take a nap during extra time. In the time the Argentina goal was being celebrated this afternoon, for example, such official-to-official contact could have been made to determine that yes, Tevez was offside, and the goal should not stand. It would be somewhat similar to what is currently used in rugby – where usually, the whole stadium knows a review is taking place, and an announcement and/or signal is made to clarify the determination when the review is complete.

Every play wouldn’t be cut and dry, and I’m not sure it is something that should be put to use on anything other than scoring plays (or denied scoring plays), but it’s a start.

My concern is that at this point, I’m not even sure that’s enough. In other sports, as the number of teams have grown, and the players have gotten bigger and faster over what is usually the same size playing surface, the number of officials have gone up. The NFL currently uses 7, but originally started with 3 and as late as 1964, had just five. In recent years, the NHL has gone from 1 referee and 2 linesmen to 2 referees and 2 linesmen. It hasn’t been that long since the NBA adopted a three-official system over the previous two.

At some point, the game evolves such that changes need to be made. And given that this goal/no-goal issue has been festering since at least 1966, and the basic set up is still the same some 44 years later, and such plays are still being shockingly missed on the world stage, it may be time to consider that the game has evolved past what the current set up allows.

Is another referee or official of some sort needed in soccer? At first glance, you might think of that as a harsh suggestion. It would break tradition and all that. Maybe only a “goal judge” as it were would be beneficial, which would have, in theory, provided the view necessary to properly count Lampard’s goal today and bring England back to 2-2 in the first half. Would that person have realized that Tevez was offside, however? Would that person even be tasked to do that? These are questions that can’t be answered currently.

FIFA remain steadfast that they won’t comment on the decisions made during games, and they aren’t too interested in adding officials across the board. And it’s a harder sell in soccer than in our American sports, where we have one league that governs the sport in our country – where as FIFA has hundreds of member nations, most with their own leagues and in some cases therir own way of doing things.

If we were sitting here tonight arguing over shirt-tugging or a little gamesmanship behind the play, I’d agree with FIFA that they are probably right.

But more so than any other responsibility in soccer, you go into a game expecting that the referee and his assistants are going to know when a goal should count and when it should not. Anything short of that, which would seem to be a common-sense standard, validly calls into question the integrity of the contest we are watching.

If FIFA’s officials can’t get that right when the world is watching, then people – fairly or not – will begin to question the validity of exactly what it is they are watching. And as mighty as it wants to be, not even FIFA can afford that.

If it takes replay, do it. If it takes a goal judge, do it. If it takes another official, do it. If it takes all three, do it.

When the three people in charge of a match can’t determine when a goal has been scored, or if it was scored legally – and such situations are happening more than 1 in say, 100 games, it’s time to find solutions.

* Argentina and Germany will meet in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia
Brazil 4-2 Chile

Today’s Record: 2-0.
Tournament Record: 28-24.


One thought on “World Cup 2010 (Day 17): Of Mice and Refs …

  1. With the title, I thought you were going to suggest “mercy killings” for refs that accidentally destroy a nation’s World Cup hopes.

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